Education: The Great Evasion

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Modern U.S. educators are always trying to define the "aims" of education. But to a swelling chorus of critics, the definitions have a hollow sound. Last week, in an eloquent little book called Faith and Education (Abingdon-Cokesbury, $2), one of Manhattan's leading Protestant clergymen told why. The Rev. George A. Buttrick. longtime (25 years) pastor of the Madison Avenue Presbyterian Church, believes that modern education is nothing more than one gigantic evasion.

"We are told," says Dr. Buttrick, quoting Harvard's James Bryant Conant, "that education is preparation for the 'good life,' but neither the word 'good' nor the word 'life' is given any content. Or we are told [by John S. Brubacher] that the 'general aim' of education 'is only that of pupil growth.' But what kind of 'growth'? . . . Or we are told [by William Heard Kilpatrick] that education must assume 'increasing responsibility for participation in projecting ideas of social change.' But again we must ask: What kind of change and in what direction? . . ."

Cash & Gadgets. These questions, says Dr. Buttrick, the educators do not answer, for "recent education has almost deified an attitude of suspended judgment, blind to the fact that while suspended judgment may be possible in matters of opinion or unfinished scientific research, it is not possible on any deeper level of life. We may suspend judgment . . . about the cause of the sudden inroad of lamprey eels in Lake Michigan, but we cannot suspend judgment on whether to steal or be honest, or on whether man is a mechanism or a soul.

"The cult of 'objective study' likewise cannot stand scrutiny . . . The mockery is so complete that the whole foundation of our education must now be questioned. For education has assumed that human nature is a receptacle for 'facts,' and that this diet of facts will of itself somehow lead to knowledge, and that knowledge by an even more mysterious alchemy will then become wisdom . . . Education has pinned its faith to a fictitious 'progress,' blandly believing that man is a romantic creature destined to walk the road of evolution 'more and more unto the perfect day.' Every tenet of this creed has been falsified: progress has become a rather nasty mixture of cash and gadgets, and the road of evolution has reached—Buchenwald!"

The Homeless. The fact is that these "aims" of education are not aims but escapes; "the uneasiness that comes of letting major issues go by default has fallen like mildew on our schools." The real aim of education cannot be "different from the total purpose of life . . . The realm of education may be like a field within a farm: it may cultivate a special crop. But the crop must still serve the purpose of the whole farm."

The major question that education must face, in short, is God, for "if God is the sovereign fact of life, God is the sovereign fact for education . . . Education cannot live under any hermetic seal, but only under the countersign of man's nature and destiny. If God is, education must live under the acknowledgment of God."

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